Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bloody Black Friday, Saturday and Sunday

It's Sunday and the numbers aren't in yet for the long-anticipated post-Thanksgiving weekend sales, except the LA Times Reported the sales on Thanksgiving Day and  Black Friday rose a mere 2.3% It seems that impulse shopping and target or "mission" shopping can be graphed inversely proportional along a scale of disposable income.

Thanksgiving was once a feast before the Battle of the Big Box Stores. Now the battle starts early and it's the bloodiest on record. It's only expected to get worse as the years pass without increased employment or wages. Parents will be faced with the prospect of having nothing to distract their children on Christmas morning except themselves. It must be a horrifying thought to inspire such bloody violent shopping.

We should see the complete numbers by the middle of this week. I hope it was worth it.

Interestingly, More people were draw to the stores but spent less. The headlines of two major publications make them seem at odds with each other. The Wall Street Journal reports the sales dropped by 3% from last year while USA Today is reporting "Black Friday and Holiday shopping brighter than forecast." Bloomberg reports holiday sales up by 2.3%.

Slate reported that the shopping traffic was redistributed throughout Thanksgiving and Friday.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Food Safety - A Chicken Wing Conspiracy Theory

It's unfortunate for all Chicken-related industries along their entire chains of distribution that one of them was exposed for lax health and safety protocols. They apparently cannot deny their dependence on the government to provide the inspections necessary to keep them in line, and one company has now brought down the entire chicken industry, fear of Salmonella now spreads through the public like wildfire.

The slowdown in demand will increase the supply and consequently lower the price. The season for Hot Wings is upon us and last year there was rumor in the news media about a shortage of Chicken Wings.
The rumors apparently were quashed in a report by Time Magazine (interestingly prior to the above Slate article.)
Rumors alone didn't effectively manipulate market prices, maybe affecting the ability of the government to regulate the industry will knock the support legs out from under competitors and send waves of fear to manipulate prices?

Since such manual controls exist for such manipulation, it stands to reason that they are exploited.

When a company has multiple processing plants, upgrades one plant when there is an outbreak of Salmonella, but then does not upgrade other plants until another outbreak is discovered, we must question the quality of everything we buy that was prepared and cooked by someone we don't know.
Foster Farms decided not to recall it's chicken. It's too easy to say that customers failed to properly cook the chicken to 165 degree Fahrenheit internally. The two sides of this equation are the volume of contamination versus risky cooking methods.

Assuming it were possible for everyone to follow the directions properly and Salmonella was equally prevalent across the entire industry nationwide, all Salmonella might be eliminated from the bird during cooking. In the Foster Farms case, the outbreak is geographically focused in a specific region of distribution which suggests a possible risky cooking strategy involving a specific recipe indigenous to the region.
According to patient interviews, the majority (80%) of the cases were due to preparation in the home. It was not clear where the other twenty percent occurred. 

The fact that Foster Farms implemented new procedures at a plant in Western Washington following a previous outbreak there suggests that processing plant safety equally shares responsibility with cooking for control of Salmonella. If a recipe is to blame for under-cooking the chicken, who is responsible?

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Humiliation Factor of Food

Are you in a situation where your food choices make you feel humiliation? I fixed myself a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich for the first time in about twenty five years. I looked at the two flat slices of cold bread stuck together on a plate and thought to myself 'this is demeaning.'

I felt degraded for having a PB&J and surprised at my emotions toward the thing. I knew it wasn't what I wanted to eat. There are plenty of things I would rather eat than a PB&J, buy why was I feeling this way?

Marketing is not just about selling something to you, it's also about un-selling things; creating aversions as well as attractions that guide you in various directions in the pin-ball realm of Operant Conditioning we call "life."

Subtlety has many forms and levels. There are subtle ways of selling things by associating them with other things. In television commercials, a company can place it's products among actors who portray love and friendship. The Emotional Capital in the advertising is a highly effective depiction of intense friendships in the least stressful environments. This is key to the two courses related to Advertising and Nonverbal Communication. Also called Product Placement and Juxtaposition if you take Film Art and history classes.

A previous stage in the evolution of advertising to the Emotional Halo around a product was the Endorsement directed right at the camera by a spokesperson, and then later by a celebrity. It still happens in smaller markets which I find nostalgic and funny. Majoring in Communication is really like taking the "Red Pill" some times.

The downward pressure on marketing for fast food is other media focusing on nutrition, health, wages and working conditions. This is the other side of the coin. A lot of money behind the downward pressure on fast food in general comes from competitors seeking to create aversions toward a specific product by negatively depicting things, places or people associated with that specific product but not directly depicting the product itself.

The rest of us feed on the information we perceive as valuable and spread it around on Internet message boards completely oblivious to the hidden Public Relations agenda. It doesn't mean the information is false. The information could be very accurate indeed, but we are all unwitting public relations operatives who don't get paid for our effort.

So what does this have to do with my Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich?

I associate a PB&J with a grease-stained wrinkled brown paper lunch sack. Where have we seen that? There is a commercial that features the brown bag in a typical elementary school cafeteria lunch situation. Ah, yes! The Lunchables commercial. Lunchables are a product of Oscar Meyer that were invented out of necessity because ironically, Oscar Meyer specialized in making exactly the kinds of sandwiches you find in a brown paper bag like the one depicted in it's own advertisement. 

The Emotional Capital
of a brown paper bag is
popular among
marketers.
The old lunch sack is often used in commercials to such a degree that it resonates as a negative symbol of a social class. Along with this casualty of corporate marketing is what ever usually comes out of the sack at lunch time, including apples, vegetables, and the notorious white bread sandwich.

It's just one of many such depictions, but I also remember the disappointment I personally felt when I had to eat my brown bag lunch at school while the other kids were getting hot meals. Maybe that has something to do with my weight problem.

The advertisement brings back the strong negative memories I had about two cold pieces of bread stuck together with PB&J. I could blame my own experiences for feeling degraded over PB&J, or I could blame the prolific advertising for continuing to reinforce the negative memories. Either way, the pressure to spend money on more expensive food in the past has led me to this inevitable humiliation.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The only good sandwich is no sandwich.

Even bread has High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). I try to avoid it because I heard it makes you feel hungry. It also causes other more severe health effects. There are only a few selections of bread at the grocery store made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.

I don't know if that's better or worse. Is the sugar made with real cane sugar, or sugar beets? Sugar beets are now also GMO and contain Sucrose, but I can't be certain that foods that say they contain sugar can really contain sucrose from GMO Sugar Beets and still be labeled as containing sugar. It's probably just as well to avoid anything processed that contains any kind of sugar at all, even sugar itself.

I also don't use real cheese anymore. I must be lactose intolerant because real cheese gives me constipation, but American cheese does not seem to have that affect and it's also the cheapest. I wonder if the combination of high fructose corn syrup in the bread along with real cheese is a major culprit in the cause of intestinal distress?

American cheese still contains Milk which is now loaded with chemicals.

Wait a minute. Lactose is actually another sugar! So I'm absorbing Fructose and Lactose. One slice of American cheese has 1 gram of sugar, and a slice of HFCS bread has 2 grams, so a basic cheese sandwich has 5 grams of sugar, and it's probably entirely GMO. The bread labeled as containing sugar and not HFCS may still be GMO sugar beet based sugar instead of real cane sugar.

I really like the convenience of being able to grab up something and eat it without getting my hands sticky and wet, but maybe if I eliminated bread and cheese entirely, I would be forced to set aside a place, time, dishes and utensils that would need washing later, and endure the patience required to deal with all of it.

In the end I would spend less on food and probably lose weight from the lack of convenience alone, and have better health.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Unusual Market Movement

Rare Earths
Medallian Resources (MILLOF), Avalon Rare Metals, Inc (AVL) and NIOCORP Developments (NIOBF) today are climbing up together for the first time during the several months I've been watching those stocks.

NioCorp acquired some human capital from Molycorp just prior to the stock jumping a whopping 18% to $0.19. There's a metal deposit in Nebraska waiting for development. The ore is waiting for price and trade policy adjustments.

Yesterday afternoon, Mining Weekly reported that China may be looking to buy some U.S. Metals. Avalon Rare Earths (AVL) jumped into Dollar territory for the first time since May and over the last few days seems to be leveling off there.

I took these and other stocks into my portfolio around the time of the last recession. There are always risks so never invest in anything you can't afford to lose.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Supply-Blame Economics



It's a point of pride for many people to acquire some thing for as close to nothing as possible. I know someone who glows with pride for a whole day having found fuel at a price cheaper per gallon by as little as five cents. Everyone likes a deal, nobody likes to think about the consequences, whether it be fuel, the last popular item on sale the day after Thanksgiving, the cheapest mortgage payment or the cost of labor.
Most employers and employees agree about poverty-level wages by dismissing them as "better than nothing" and without the minimum wage laws set by government, employees would undercut each-other into destitution by offering ever-cheaper service. Should employees be surprised by the contempt of their bosses for such lack of loyalty to their fellow workers?

What is the purpose of a poverty-level minimum wage? Certainly not to contribute to the flow of currency through the economy.

Answers: Job security for government workers, psychological stress to maintain passive obedience, pressure to commit crimes of survival so you can be conscripted for prison slave labor.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Engineered Inconvenience

There is a new way to increase profit. It's the engineering of inconvenience. How is this possible?
It's simple when you look at bottles of detergent. They appear to be designed to occupy more shelf space while containing less detergent. Something the chemical companies are surely aware of but not the companies that purchase the chemicals, package and then sell to retailers.

Once upon a time gas tanks in cars were much larger than they are today. Of course the cars are smaller than they once were and more fuel efficient, but that doesn't mean the car manufacturers didn't get together with big oil and decide they wanted you to stop for refueling just as frequently if not more, so why not make the tanks smaller for more profit?

Notice how your left-over boxes from Christmas and birthdays were designed only to exactly fit the product they came with and nothing else? It makes sense for manufacturers to save money on packaging materials but do you get the sense that the things you buy seem to be way over-packaged, almost to the point of absurdity? Too many wire ties, Too many bags within bags? Boxes within boxes?

It's infuriating when you want to store your tapes, disks, or photos and there is always that extra few inches of space you wish you could fit those last few items, but it just doesn't work. Even the photo boxes at the card store have that agonizing extra useless space.

Food containers are much larger than the
dimensions of a single sandwich made with
standard sized slices of bread.
Food containers are ridiculously mis-shapen. I went to the store to find one that would fit a single sandwich and found one that seemed much larger than necessary. It might contain one regular sandwich and perhaps a small additional bag with a snack or something, but if you wanted a full meal you might have to upgrade to the next size of container that might accommodate a regular sandwich with something else, but it would be five times as big. Everything else in between are shaped more for salads or soups.

Luckily the sandwich container comes in a package of five. Don't get paper sandwich bags because they won't fit. I don't want to use and throw away plastic bags anymore so I just went with the container anyway.

We seem to be conditioned to accept more inconveniences at a higher price for the profit of others. The cardboard tubes in paper towels and toilet paper have expanded in size while the rolls appear to be the same size. Low-fat products seem to have more carbohydrates than the regular stuff.

Things that were once made of much more durable Nylon are now made with brittle Polystyrene or Polyester. Leather furniture is usually only partially leather. Much of the filler in the products we buy are manufacturing waste byproducts from other things. Very little is wasted but very little is known about the long-term effects of exposure to some of these substances, like artificial sweeteners. Our world of consumer goods is evolving into pseudo-goods.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Alternatives to pizza delivery: Good or not?

There are certain appliances that seem ridiculous to have, like a countertop rotating pizza oven, but when you consider how long the savings will take to pay off the appliance, like two weeks worth of ordering delivered pizza, then it seems like a good investment, but is it really?

The convenience of the appliance may increase the frequency of its use, translating into an increase in the number of frozen food purchases that are used with the appliance, that in the end will cost more than just ordering delivery food. There is also the increased use of electricity to consider.

Then there is the cost in health. The convenience of the appliance will lead to an increase in the types of food that must be prepared by the appliance, typically frozen processed foods. If you had the original notion of the product's convenience in mind for its purchase, do you seriously believe that you plan to prepare healthy food with it? Besides fresh beef, fish, pork or poultry, if something needs to be cooked, is it really a good idea to eat it at all?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Ordering furniture over the Internet

On March 8, 2013 I ordered an office chair through Amazon, from a company called Sam's Online. I received an email on March 11, 2013, 1:50 PM, stating that the chair was shipped . By March 22, 2013, 2:17 PM, the afternoon of the very last day of the "estimated shipping period." I received an email that the order was cancelled. The explanation was "Your order was processed and Stopped within the shipping group before delivery."

What the Hell? I went to Amazon.com and after clicking around for a while discovered that there is a message board set up between Amazon merchants and customers, buried under oder history. Apparently they sent an email on March 14, 2013,



Response needed from Sams Online

Order # ********

Hello ******

I wanted to update you on your order for Boss B991-CP Heavy Duty Double Plush Caressoftplus Chair, 350-Pound , it is still unavailable.

Usually what happens is we get an estimated delivery date for out of stock items. Unfortunately, we were informed it will be several weeks at the earliest, In order not to waste any of your time, we will expedite your order within 24 hours and with your permission, we can substitute with  Boss B990-cp Big Person Chair 350lbs Limit a similar item

To see details of other options available, Copy & Paste the following: www.amazon.com/shops/SamsOnline

Tip: For better search results, type more detail of what you prefer into search bar ( upper left next to Search Sams Online)

If we do not hear from you within one week, we will cancel your order.

Looking forward to hearing from you so we may process your order.


Thanks
Bob
Sams Online


I thoroughly check my emails and my spam box daily, I get so many sales related emails from Amazon that it's possible I deleted this email thinking it was just another advertisement. I just now noticed that they also sent an email March 13, 2013 stating the package was not in stock, so I actually never saw these emails from March 13 and March 14. but I did see the email dated March 22, 2013. The record still shows to this day that the package shipped.

Since I did not respond immediately, they assumed I gave them permission to leave the order active:


March 13, 2013
***-***********
 
 
Hello ************.       
 
Thank you for your order ********* from Sams Online on Amazon.com. We appreciate your business.
 
I wanted to give you an update: Boss B991-CP Heavy Duty Double Plush Caressoftplus Chair, 350-Pound  is usually an in-stock item, but is now temporarily out of stock. We will rush it as soon as it is available from manufacturer. You will receive one more email with shipping confirmation and tracking info.
 
With your permission, your order will remain on backorder, with expedited status. If you prefer, we can substitute with an item of similar qualities.
 
To see details of your options available, Copy & Paste the following:  www.amazon.com/shops/SamsOnline  Tip: For better search results, type more detail of what you prefer into search bar ( upper left next to: Search Sams Online)
 
On Behalf of the entire staff of Sams Online, let me apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.
 
Looking forward to hearing from you so we may process your order.
 
 
 
Thanks
***Sams Online

Emails of this nature for a transaction of this amount must be followed up with a phone call. There is an amount of money over which a crime is a considered a felony, and to me this is considered a charge of Felony Criminal Conversion. To falsely claim that a non-existing product was shipped with fictitious USPS tracking numbers.

I was so angry I tried to leave a product review. but Amazon rejected it.


Thanks for submitting a customer review on Amazon. Your review could not be posted to the website in its current form. While we appreciate your time and comments, reviews must adhere to the following guidelines: 
http://www.amazon.com/review-guidelinesWe encourage you to revise your review and submit it again. A few common issues to keep in mind: 

Written reviews must be at least 20 words long. The ideal length is 75 to 500 words.Your review should focus on specific features of the product and your experience with it. Feedback on the seller or your shipment experience should be provided at www.amazon.com/feedback. 
We do not allow profane or obscene content. This applies to adult products too.Advertisements, promotional material or repeated posts that make the same point excessively are considered spam. 
Please do not include URLs external to Amazon or personally identifiable content in your review. 
We welcome your honest opinion about products - positive or negative. We do not remove reviews because they are critical. We believe all helpful information can inform our customers’ buying decisions. If you have questions about the product or opinions that do not fit the review format, please feel free to use the Customer Discussions feature on the product page. 
Here is the review I submitted. Note the date. I submitted this review only after my second attempt to order this product from another store that was recommended by Amazon.

  It apparently does not exist., April 9, 2013

By ******Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)This review is from: Boss B991-CP Heavy Duty Double Plush Caressoftplus Chair, 350-Pound (Misc.)

I tried twice to order this chair, both times from sources recommended by Amazon. The first time I tried to order it from Sam's Online and they said it shipped, but in the late afternoon of the very last day that I was told it would arrive, I received an email stating that it was back-ordered for several weeks and "the shipping was stopped." It had been three weeks since I ordered it.The second time was from Bellacor which had a link at Amazon. I ordered the chair from them, and noticed in the shipping instructions that I would have to pull the order from the truck myself. There was also no information about what company was doing the shipping either. I went online to check my order status and it was not there. I called customer service and they told me the chair was "back-ordered for several weeks" so I cancelled the order.

Find more products to review at:http://www.amazon.com/review/review-your-purchases

That sums up Bellacor. Don't need to cover that. What happened next was OfficeMax.com, actually 3 days prior to my attempted review at Amazon.

On April 6, 2013 I ordered a chair from Office Max. On their website, the chair was listed as shipping within 1 to 3 days. There was also no tracking information because neither UPS, FedEx, or USPS was the carrier. April 6, 2013 was a Saturday, I received an email from OfficeMax.com on Monday April 8, 2013 that my order shipped, so I was expecting it to arrive at least before the end of the week.

Three days go by. On Thursday, April 11, 2013, I called Office Max and they said my order was on the truck and should have been delivered, so I was expecting it at least by the following day.

Friday, April 12, 2013 at 11:02 AM. I visited OfficeMax.com and submitted a trace request to determine the location of my package because again, there was no tracking information. The chair never arrived.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013. There was a knock on my door. My chair finally arrived via Postal Express (800)-287-0613. The delivery man said "There were some stairs back there I wasn't aware of."

I said nothing, signed the receipt, thanked him and closed the door.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Regrettably Delicious - or why the government won't raise the minimum wage.

Did you ever wonder why we have a "Flu Season?" Is the flu season world-wide, or does it only affect the United States? I suspect the flu season primarily effects the United States for the simple reason that so many people who are part-time food handlers at restaurants and grocery stores are sick or infected most of the time.

But, it's not just the food handlers, it's any retail service employee who is part-time. Fast-food, hospitality workers in hotels and possibly on cruise ships, or even full-time employees who only earn minimum wage.

ClassWarfareExists.com recently reported Wendy's Taco Bell Franchises Cut Employee Hours To Avoid Giving Workers Health Insurance. This is really not surprising, it's been a common practice for decades at Walmart, Lowe's and other low-wage employers.

Compounding the problem is that low-wages and not enough hours makes it impossible for employees to take sick time necessary to prevent spreading disease.

A few years ago I was active with MoveOn.org and we protested in favor of the Public Option or Single Payer health care option that would be basically giving everyone in the country health coverage like Medicaid or Medicare. One benefit would have been relieving businesses of the burden of health care.

Unfortunately, the insurance companies clearly saw it as a threat to their very existence, and they were right to be afraid. Insurance companies have countless billions of dollars from their customers stored up in huge coffers, if not invested in some hedge fund, and their "Death Panels" regularly turn-down insurance claims already, something Sarah Palin neglected to mention when she was making the same claim against the new health care reforms proposed by then candidate Barack Obama before the 2008 presidential election.

We actually were allowed into Senator Roland Burris's office in Springfield to discuss the issue, but nothing changed. The Obama administration decided against the Single Payer system back then, perhaps because they needed the Insurance industry support for at least the next two election cycles.

OpenSecrets.org is a good source to check campaign contributions. Anyway, The question of improving health care coverage for every American keeps coming up and then is pushed aside by some other distraction time-and-again.

It would seem to make sense in the scheme of American worker productivity to make sure all children as school are healthy, and employees at work are healthy, were it not for one single fact: Sickness is profitable.

The health care industry sees a huge profit over the flu season. Why would any politician dare choke the flow of campaign cash from such a powerful industry? Sickness ain't broke!